Back to School: Is a Physical Exam on Your To-Do List?
Summer is winding down as back-to-school items are popping up on store shelves. The last few weeks of summer are the perfect time to complete your back-to-school checklist. Pediatrician Dr. Anne Francis says a physical examination for your child should always make the cut, no matter what grade your child is entering.
Children 3 years of age and older need to see their pediatrician annually. Using your child’s birthday as a reminder is a helpful tip.
A yearly physical exam by your child’s pediatrician is important for a number of reasons:
Keeping track—Regular exams provide invaluable continuity, allowing your pediatrician to monitor your child’s height, weight, hearing, vision, and more. Too often, a child comes in and it’s evident he or she cannot see the eye chart and needs glasses. If not for a checkup, a child may not speak up, leaving the issue undetected. It’s also an opportunity to monitor diet and exercise. With the prominence of obesity and rise of body shaming on social media, it’s important for your pediatrician to track changes in both weight gain and loss. Regular exams allow your pediatrician to better detect emerging problems and stay informed on your child’s progress and development over time. For teenage patients, it’s also an important time to address issues such as drinking, smoking, drugs, depression and sexual activity. Annual visits are opportunities for doctors to provide wellness guidance and advice.
Meeting milestones—A developmental assessment is part of the physical examination up to the age of 5, evaluating your child’s physical, emotional and social growth, as well as motor development. This also helps determine your child’s school readiness and if the skills, attitude, and knowledge necessary for success in school are present. Your doctor will measure these milestones through your child’s adolescence.
Family history—Annual checkups provide time for your pediatrician to learn your family’s medical history and if there are any concerns that could potentially impact your child’s future. Layering of information with each visit is critical in a family-centered approach to care and makes it easier for you to get up-to-date information when you need to fill out other school forms.
Keeping up on immunizations—It’s a perfect way to keep up-to-date with immunizations, such as those required by New York State for preschoolers, kindergarteners and 6th graders. Kindergarteners need to have two measles and chicken pox shots, plus their DPT (a class of combination vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus) and polio vaccines before starting school. For more information on immunization requirements for specific grades, visit the New York State Department of Health website.
Building a relationship—With each visit, the relationship between you, your child and your pediatrician grows. Although checkups start out with the parent being the main contributor to the conversation, it eventually transitions to being more of a one-on-one between the pediatrician and the child. This is critical to building your adolescent’s understanding of and control over his or her own health needs and knowing how to best take care of them into the future.
In addition, if your child is a student athlete, he or she should have an up-to-date physical examination at least six weeks in advance of the sports season. While many urgent care centers offer sports physicals, they don’t have the child’s complete immunization records or past medical history, making it easier to overlook a needed vaccine or a history of multiple concussions.
Anne Francis, MD, FAAP., is a board- certified pediatrician with Elmwood Pediatrics. She serves on the Board of Directors of the University of Rochester Medical Center and on the Medical Center Quality of Care Committee. Dr. Francis is also active in the American Academy of Pediatrics, having held several leadership positions.